She’s one of the guys now.
In a sport that preaches conformity, one football player stood out from the others on the Greenport High School practice field Friday morning. And playing ability had nothing to do with it.
With a blonde ponytail hanging out from underneath her purple matte helmet, Felecia Kayel can also be distinguished by her small size. Even in pads, the 5-foot-1 Kayel seems out of place on a field with players twice her size. But the Southold High School sophomore has no doubt that this is where she belongs, playing with the Greenport/Southold/Mattituck junior varsity team.
A girl playing football?
While it is unusual, it is not unheard of.
For Kayel, it feels just right.
This is Kayel’s first year playing football, but her family has roots in the sport. Her father, Timothy, was a running back for the same Porters team that current Greenport coach Jack Martilotta played for.
“My dad was always into football,” she said, “and we’re Falcons fans and ever since I was little we would always watch football and we’d get all the helmets for all the teams and line them up, and I really enjoyed watching it, and we would play in the backyard, but I never thought I’d be able to play on a team because I was a girl and it was just not accepted.”
Kayel tried playing golf. She didn’t care for it much.
She tried volleyball. Again, the same thing.
Then, a football camp late in the school year in Greenport caught her interest. “I figured I should go try it out and when I did I just completely fell in love with it,” she said.
Kayel was sold on football. She recalls looking at the football section of a sporting goods store during a shopping trip and telling her father that maybe she will play this year.
“He was super excited,” she said. “I went home and told my mom. She was like: ‘Oh, you’re crazy. You can’t do that. There’s boys out there who are 300 pounds.’ But I know I can.”
Kayel said her mother, Michelle, is on board with her decision.
This summer Kayel worked out at a gym every day to prepare for training camp. Even with all of that preparation, the start of preseason practice was an eye-opener for her.
“I did not expect to go home and not be able to walk up the stairs,” she said. “That was one thing. My dad was telling me, ‘You’re going to be very sore.’ The first day I came back [from practice], I had blisters all over my feet. I had cuts, bruises. I didn’t even know where it came from, but you just got to push forward and really block everything out and I just enjoy myself out there.”
Kayel said she wants to be a running back like her father was. “I go to bed and sometimes I just dream of running into the end zone,” she said.
Logan Urick, a senior who plays guard and linebacker, said Kayel is treated like any other player. “She’s run with us,” he said. “She’s been in pads with us. She’s done everything.”
Kayel, who said her teammates have been supportive and have helped her, remarked: “I don’t want people thinking that I’m getting special treatment. I don’t want any advantages or anything. I want to be treated like everyone else because we’re all a team and [my teammates] do this every day, too, so they deserve just as much credit as me.”
Martilotta, in his eighth year as the Greenport varsity coach, never had a girl play in his program before, but has welcomed Kayel. “It’s 2017, you know,” he said. “I see no reason why, you know, if a girl wants to play football, they shouldn’t, and I’m happy that she’s doing it. I’m happy to have her on the team.”
Martilotta said Kayel is athletic, strong, coachable and has a good work ethic. “I think she’s ready,” he said.
What is it about football that captivates Kayel?
“I like the rush,” she said. “I like going out there when it’s raining and you feel the wind and the rain all over your face and you’re running and it’s powerful and exciting. I love it. It’s just that feeling. You don’t get it from anything else.”
“It’s hard, though. It’s very hard,” she continued. “You have to work very hard for this. There’s a few people out there who are like, ‘This is stupid, you shouldn’t be doing this,’ but then there’s a few girls, actually, out there who say they wish they could do this. But some girls, they just can’t put themselves out there like that. Sometimes I just sit there and I just think of how much I put into this and how I just can’t stop now.”
Photo caption: Felecia Kayel, a sophomore on the Greenport/Southold/Mattituck junior varsity football team, reaches out for a pass during Friday morning’s practice. (Credit: Bob Liepa)